Walmart saw a massive surge in sales last month due to the coronavirus pandemic and the "panic-buying" of nervous customers, according to a new report by The Wall Street Journal. On Friday, it was reported that the retail chain saw about a 20 percent leap in sales in March. With the economy generally slowing down, however, that gain is expected to fall away quickly.
Walmart was one of the beneficiaries of panic-buying last month as the spread of COVID-19 — the coronavirus — made Americans nervous. All of the people stocking up on huge supplies of toilet paper, cleaning products and food translated to big sales for the company, making an impressive earnings report in the short term. In the last four weeks, Walmart saw an increase of almost 20 percent in sales around the country, compared to to same time period last year.
Walmart has over 4,700 stores across the U.S. The stores sell everything — including toilet paper, hand sanitizer, canned goods and guns, all of which were in high demand last month.
That's not all. While people around the country were being furloughed or laid off, Walmart announced plans to create 150,000 new jobs this spring to help keep the stores running through these hectic times. According to a report by CNN Business, the company hired temporary associates with the intent of making some permanent, all with the hope of restocking emptied store shelves.
Walmart has also expanded some of its non-retail services, particularly grocery pickup, where customers can order groceries ahead and have an employee meet them in the parking lot with their order, ensuring that they never have to go inside. These roles require employees to pick out the orders, bring them to the car and process the order, so it makes sense that Walmart needs extra hands to fulfill them.
Still, the sales boom will not last forever, and there are indications that it will end soon. This week, a foot traffic analytics platform called Placer.ai reported that big box stores like Walmart, Target and Costco are all seeing the beginnings of a decline in visits, which will likely drop further in the weeks to come.
"Following several weeks of massive year-over-year visit increases, Costco, Target, and Walmart all saw traffic declines for the first time since the crisis began," it said. "While Sam's Club still saw a year-over-year increase, it is likely to be as much an indication of the company's overall resurgence as anything coronavirus related."
The sales may also begin to fall as states crack down on wholesale stores for selling non-essential inventory. Walmart, Target and other chains have been allowed to stay open because of their grocery and pharmacy inventories, but this week Vermont ordered them to block the aisles selling goods like electronics or clothes. Some cities in other states have done the same, fearing that the sales will tempt people out of self-isolation and contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
For the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit the CDC's website.